January 4, 2017
Matlacha, Pine Island discuss lawsuit against Cape Coral
By Frank Bumb
Fire trucks and ambulances made way for chairs and a table in the Matlacha-Pine Island Fire District Station #1. About 100 residents from the two islands gathered to listen as civic leaders contemplated taking their giant neighbor to the east to court.
The city of Cape Coral could face lawsuits on several fronts from civic organizations and residents as a result of its Dec. 12 vote to annex 5.67 acres of land along Pine Island Road near Northwest Cape Coral. The property, which is owned by the city, contains D&D Bait and Tackle shop, a boat yard, a fenced-in parking lot and boat ramp. If the annexation goes through, the land would come under city ordinances, zoning and future land use regulations. Those regulations, in part, signal what a developer can build on the land.
But residents on the islands of Matlacha and Pine Island are concerned that any development on the land will cause increased traffic, increased response times for emergency vehicles getting on and off the island, environmental issues and alter the culture of the area. Concerns were also raised that the city wants the land in order to build a marina that would serve the Seven Islands development project.
"Cape Coral is a fine city, but they have a city culture and we have an island culture,” said Greater Pine Island Civic Association President Roger Wood. “And we want to preserve that.”
Wood said, in a separate move from the matters discussed Wednesday, his group had voted unanimously to explore the possibility of incorporating Pine Island and Matlacha into a municipality. But the leaders of the discussion Wednesday agreed that was not a short-term solution to the issues raised by the city's move to annex the six parcels.
Wood was joined by Matlacha Civic Association President Kristine Smock, Matlacha resident and Washington attorney Michael Hannon, and Bokeelia Civic Association President Michael Dreikorn in objecting to the city’s annexation.
All three said they were pursuing avenues to halt the annexation or – if annexation is inevitable – to look for a working relationship with the city.
“We asked them to stay your decision, there’s information you council members don’t have that you should prior to making your decision,” Dreikorn said of the residents speaking at the Dec. 12 meeting. “They said ‘we don’t represent you,’ they said ‘we don’t report to you.’ … We’re under siege right now.”
Dreikorn, who is also on the Matlacha-Pine Island Fire District Board of Commissioners, said the board voted unanimously Wednesday night to initiate a process under Florida statutes that would pause the annexation while the fire control district and the city work through an intergovernmental mediation process.
But the meeting also served as a fundraiser for the Matlacha Civic Association’s Legal Defense Fund. A release from the association said it had received pledges of more than $10,000 to support legal efforts to halt the annexation. A filing from the group has not happened as of Wednesday night but must be filed by Jan. 11.
Hannon said that he is not licensed to practice law in Florida but said he was using his legal expertise as a resident of Matlacha to assist the groups’ efforts in looking at how Cape Coral went about the annexation process.
“There’s a lot of concerns with how this was handled,” Hannon said.
Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag gave a presentation on Dec. 12, arguing that annexation did not guarantee development of the parcels nor that the move was an initial move leading to the annexation of Matlacha.
"There are no plans to annex Matlacha," Szerlag said in his presentation. “In the absence of a voluntary annexation request, an attempt to do so would require a referendum of the residents of Matlacha. A simple majority of residents would be required to validate the annexation.”